Avery Delacorte is on her way home to Brookline for a college break when her plane goes down over the Rocky Mountains. Survival seems tough, but Avery's return to civilisation, and school, is unexpectedly more challenging by a long shot.
Avery is a typical college student, in that she's not quite sure who she is. In fact, she came to college hoping to reinvent herself, but still feels like a fake. The only place she feels at home is in the water, and even then, swimming is fraught with stress related to being the best, and making sure you're keeping the coach happy, and playing well with the team.
When Avery gets on the plane to fly across the country, heading home for a break, she finds herself next to Colin Shea, with whom she shares a swim team, and not much else. She plugs in her headphones, hoping to ignore him the whole way home, but the plane's unexpected descent into a lake in the Rocky Mountains changes everything.
Five days later, Avery is rescued, taken home, and hospitalised for exposure, frostbite, and a host of other ills. Once she's released into the care of her family, they, and she, realise she has a far more insidious problem, one not evident from looking at her – Avery is suffering from PTSD, and all she can do is work through it.
As more of Avery's story unfolds, she reveals what happened during her five days in the wilderness, and discovers how she can find her peace and move on with her life.
Girl Underwater certainly doesn't fall under one of my genre favourites, and probably had I encountered it in a bookstore or what have you I would have passed it by without a second glance. Bearing that in mind, I found the story to be compelling and also thoughtfully written, with a lovely sincerity running through the narrative voice.
Girl Underwater is written from the point of view of Avery, and is her current story interspersed with her recollections of the crash and subsequent survival. It's definitely well written, because obviously you know she survives, but the tension of how will she get out of this is very much present in the flashbacks. Her PTSD, odd behaviour, thought processes of being in denial about how she's feeling and her coping mechanisms all seem very realistic and certainly not at odds with reality. Her character is sympathetic but extremely three dimensional, and the narrative voice displays the other characters beautifully from Avery's point of view: in that they are always tinted with Avery. Some authors forget when they're writing from the first person that all the secondary characters need to be written from that point of view also, but not Kells. Avery's voice is constantly authentic.
The plot is well paced, with good character development and self discovery. I wasn't nuts about the very end, but I can live with it. It was in keeping with the narrative voice, which I found to have a youthfulness about it that a lot of writers seem incapable of accessing. Avery is young. This book is young. Maybe a bit inexperienced, I mean, it's a first novel after all, but that sits beautifully with the story. Kells will only get better with experience, and this is a cracker of a first novel.
I'd suggest a younger audience, (not kids, but college kids absolutely) because the voice is so authentic and the ameliorating experience of college and growing up and relationships is so well portrayed in this story that I feel like reading it young would be great. I'm not saying not to read it if you're no longer in college, it's certainly relatable and emotionally charged none the less.